The Design Wheel

Lately, I have been mentoring (about twice a week) junior designers through ADPList. I have the philosophy that everything in life is designed (for better or worse). Everything from your house/apartment, to the things inside it, to how you dress and talk and run your meetings. Everything can benefit from basic design thinking. When I say that, I mean that everything can possibly be improved.

Design is the act of deciding how something is going to be. It’s not art, its decision-making.

When you take this philosophy, you are constantly looking at things in the world and evaluating how it might be enhanced or changed for some benefit. This is the point of view of a designer. It doesn’t mean that we actually improve everything. Quite the contrary, we hardly ever have the chance to change things in our lives. It just means we think about it. Some examples:

  • Gun safety laws can be improved to reduce violent deaths without actually banning all guns. California has done this. (Great podcast from NY Times about it)
  • Voting laws can be improved to make it easier to vote without any risk of fraud
  • My house could have a nicer kitchen
  • Designer portfolio systems (wix/squarespace/etc) can be made more dynamic to allow more creativity and interactivity
  • Keyboards can be redesigned for faster typing

Anything and everything can be improved. The key question is HOW. How do we improve things efficiently. I simplified all of design thinking into a single image:

The Design Wheel

Step 1: Try something. Describe it in words, draw a picture, make a prototype, or do an interpretive dance. Whatever, just try something.

Step 2: Get feedback. Listen to what people say, watch what people do, look at statistics, whatever you can do, just get feedback. Identify things that can be improved.

Step 3: Problem solve. Think about alternatives. Think of other ways to tackle the problem. Be creative. Think outside the box.

Back to step 1. Try something again. And the wheel turns.

Benefits of the wheel

Many designers get defensive when you critique their work. They think the criticism is attacking their talent, skill, judgement, or work ethic. However, when you think in terms of the wheel, you realize that criticism is just feedback on the way towards problem solving and trying something again. It’s expected and normal. It’s desired.

Nothing is ever finished. Everything can be improved. Sometimes you need to stop improving some particular thing and move on to something else. However, if you think in terms of the wheel, it makes it easier to get negative feedback.

This isn’t a mind-bending way of thinking. However, I think most people don’t do it. They assume you have to get things right on the first try and there is no room for improvements. Or they think only geniuses can make great things.

All great ideas started off as bad ideas and then went through the wheel.


Whatya think?